Book One, Call

Against All Odds

We were wandering through a discussion of where the church is headed and what it means to be called to this professionalized ministry which demands just benefits and also, coincidentally, contains more women than ever, and that now seems to be toppling the ability of churches to sustain themselves, and my friend, Wise Cellist, said, "We'll get blamed for it."

It's a tough one.

I wonder sometimes what the church will look like as we go forward. After hearing from a friend who gets no health benefits at her church, I wonder what I would be doing without them, for me and for my children. My husband can be covered by the company he works for, but only while he's working for four or five months of the year. My children could, theoretically, go back on their dad's insurance. My oldest will be on his own, either way, when he graduates in May.

So we stacked up a list of reasons that this all feels very hard: geographic ties, the preference of local churches for once-married white males of a certain age, the rise in heating oil costs that is going to nearly kill some small churches in our region, no doubt.

But despite all this, I said, I feel called to this, and I am trying to be faithful to it.

And then I read aloud from Isaiah, which was open on my lap:

49:1 Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away! The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me.

49:2 He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.    

49:3 And he said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified."    

49:4 But I said, "I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; yet surely my cause is with the LORD, and my reward with my God."      

49:5 And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob
      back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the LORD, and my God has become my strength

49:6 he says, "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."      

49:7 Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you."

Against all odds, against the general drift, definitely against the status quo: persons are called! And the excuses seem insufficient, even if the realities produce a natural anxiety.

We wondered whether sermons about the call to all people really "land?" Do they just glance past those who are listening? Are they too abstruse? Is that word, "call," so full and loaded for pastors that we forget how little it might mean to the people in the pews?

And here, as one of my colleagues said, is the real question: "Do people believe that their lives matter?"

Yes, when they feel touched by the mystery, we decided.

And it is our rather daunting task to bring that touch into worship.

Better get to work.

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